January 21, 2003

I'm in our backpackers in Te Anau, and it's been too long since my last entry, so there's a lot to say, and probably a lot that has already been forgotten.

Anyway, when I last wrote we were about to get on a ferry to the South Island. The seas were pretty rough, but, thankfully, the ferry was very large, so I didn't feel too ill.  There was a lot of motion, though.  We arrived in the evening, and checked into our standard cabin at Alexander's Holiday Park in Picton (which is where the ferry arrives).  It was a much nicer standard cabin than the one in Masterton.  A standard cabin only guarantees you a bed, four walls, and a roof.  It can be just like staying in a tent, except you don't get wet in the rain.  Some standard cabins, however, have other amenities, like a sink, a toaster and a kettle.  This one had the works, and it was very clean and looked brand new.  It was a good thing that we had this cabin, because it was storming, rain and wind, and several people were trying to pitch their tent on arrival.

Our only plans for the next week or so were that we had to be in Invercargill on January 18th so we could fly to Stewart Island the next day.  There isn't that much to see and do on the east coast of the South Island (in our opinion, anyway), just a few cities to visit, so we ended up making our way south pretty quickly.  We got to Kaikoura around 9:30am, and stopped at a roadside stand for crayfish.  That's rock lobster to most of you, which is very much like Canadian lobster, except they don't have claws and appear to have more delectable meat in them. There are a couple of these stands near Kaikoura, which are actually old caravans.  Although it was pretty early in the day, we knew that is was probably the only chance we'd have to eat lobster out of a caravan on the coast, so we bought one.  We sat in the car and ate it up. It was delicious.

We arrived in Christchurch around noon, checked our email (cheapest internet access so far, $3 per hour), sent a couple of faxes that needed to be sent, had lunch at a Cambodian noodle house, saw people playing chess with a huge, life-sized chess set, had a Chai tea at Starbucks (one of Carol's new favourite things - thanks Adele), saw a couple with the exact same MEC jackets as us (but backwards - he had yellow and she had blue), and headed out of town. We drove as far as Timaru for the evening, and stayed at the YHA (a backpacker chain).

The next day we left Timaru and drove through Kurow, which is the real birthplace of cola, at least as far as one of its citizens in concerned.  We then stopped and looked at some Maori rock drawings, which were pretty disappointing.  We arrived in Oamaru around noon and walked around the historic district.  Many buildings in Oamaru were built out of limestone, called, unsurprisingly, Oamaru limestone.  It's highly prized and many important buildings in New Zealand are made from it.  Often, when we read about the history of a city many old buildings are mentioned, but they have all burned down.  I guess the limestone doesn't burn so well, so there are plenty of beautiful old buildings in Oamaru.  We sat in the public gardens and ate some sandwiches that Carol prepared for us in the morning, and fed some of the cute little birds, then we left and headed for Dunedin.

For some reason, most of Dunedin was fully booked, so we ended up in the Penguin Palace backpackers (in the Jiminy Cricket room).  It was a typical downtown backpackers, meaning that it was large, impersonal, dirty and run-down, but at least it was a place to sleep.  After checking into the "palace", we walked around downtown to get a bit of a feel for the place.  The streets of Dunedin are designed in the shape of a Union Jack, so there's a central octagon, and an outer octagon.  We decided to go out for dinner (we usually cook for ourselves in our holiday park or backpacker), so we walked around both octagons looking a good place to eat.  As we did that, we stopped at a few (two) places for a beer, so we refer to that as our Dunedin Pub Crawl.  We enjoyed a few beers, and had a very nice dinner, including the biggest serving of lamb shanks that we've ever seen.

We decided to stay in Dunedin for 2 days, so we could "get a feel for the place", which ended up being a good thing, because our next day was jam packed.  In the morning we did a "walk" up Mt. Cargill. We anticipated a nice easy walk, but it was more of a climb.  The track was very smooth and well maintained, but it just kept going up. We reached the top after about an hour and three quarters of continuous climbing, at which point we were over 650 metres above sea level.  I don't know where we started, but it couldn't have been much more than 100 metres or so, so it was a lot of climbing.  In the late afternoon we went on a guided tour of the Otago Peninsula with Elm Wildlife Tours.  It was a bus tour, but it was actually only a small van with 8 people in it.  It was nice to not have to drive for a change, particularly becuase the roads on the peninsula are very narrow and windy. 
We went to the only mainland Albatross breeding ground in the world, where we learned all about the Royal Albatross and saw some sitting on their nests.  We also saw one in flight.  They are such amazing creatures, but I'll let Carol tell you about them.  Royal Albatrosses spend their life touring the south seas, flying around antarctica, only landing to breed every other year once they are adults.  Otherwise they fly solo, and only feed every 2 weeks.  Their wing span can reach over 3 meters and they can glide on the wind currents for days without flapping, that's why they only have to feed every 2 weeks.  We learned that the juvenille birds come back to land after 5 years of flying around the oceans, and they have never landed on solid ground before, only on water.  Their first landing on terra firma, is more like a crash landing, they don't land on their feet, they fly in on their bellies, expecting to be able to glide in like water.  Instead they tumble head over webbed feet and can actually knock themselves out!  It's at this point that the rangers band them, while they are stunned.  The other interesting thing is that by 3 months the chicks weigh 12 kilos, while an adult weighs 8 kilos.  They're bigger than their parents.  The parents then put them on a crash diet, giving them only 500 grams of food a day instead of 3-5 kilos.  We saw a picture of a 3 monther next to a ranger, they are enormous, and they have a big pot belly. We also saw Pied Stilts, Stewart Island Shags, Pied and Variable Oystercatchers, White Faced Herons, Kingfishers, Yellow-eyed Penguins (the rarest penguin in the world), fur seals, including some newborn pups, a huge sea lion, and a little (wee blue penguin is how the guide described it, it's funny to hear a grown man use the adjective wee )blue penguin in his burrow.  The tour started at 3:00pm, and we didn't get back to Dunedin until near 10:30. 

We tried to find something to eat, but everything was closed (which is not at all unusual for New Zealand, in fact, the whole city of Dunedin seems to shut down around 7:00pm).  On the advice of someone leaving yet another restaurant that was no longer serving food, we headed to the casino.  Due to a special, and a misunderstanding about bag-checking at the entry, we ended up having two steak dinners, with salad and wedges, a beer, a glass of wine and a coke for $16.50.  What a deal!

The next phase of our trip was in the Catlins, an area that we'd never even heard of before.  We arranged it all at the last minute, but it was a really cool experience.  I think I'll start a new page for the Catlins.

Next >> Way Down South


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